From Pamplona, I once more walked to Puente de La Reina, over the Alto del Perdón, to Estella, Los Arcos, Viana, where Cesare Borgia is buried, and Logroño, with its multitude of wine bars.
From Logroño I went on to Navarette, Nájera, and Santo Domingo, where I once more stayed with the nuns, as we had done in 2014. Then Belorado, and Villafranca Montes de Oca, in the beautiful grand old mansion, where the owner and his son remembered me and treated me royally.
Finally, to Atapuerca and the long gruelling walk into Burgos, around the airport and the 10 km of concrete pavement through the industrial area, until finally reaching the jewelled heart of the city.
In Burgos, I stayed in a beautiful little apartment, opposite and managed by the Pancho Bar, where we had spent a riotous evening in 2014. When I made the booking, I did not realise the connection. The owner, his two brothers and sister are the core of the staff, and their tapas are excellent.
And it was in that bar that I spent another great evening.
Burgos was to be the end of my Camino for 2016. The weather was turning distinctly colder, especially overnight, and it was time for this little bird to spread his wings and head south to a warmer climate.
But God willing, I will be back next year to walk another path across the glorious landscape of Spain.
I arrived from Uppsala in the mid-afternoon, after an overnight stay in Bayonne, SNCF to Irun, local train to San Sebastian and finally bus to Pamplona. It felt great to be back in Spain, with the prospect of three weeks of walking from village to village. After several pictxos (tapas), each accompanied with a glass of local wine, I felt that life could not get much better.
And I slept soundly that night.
Pamplona to Puente de La Reina (23km)
Wednesday, 28 March, 2012
It was quite cool when I set out in the morning. The sun does not reach the narrow streets of Pamplona until much later in the day, and then only briefly. When Pamplona was still a fortress, the inhabitants were not allowed to build outside the city walls. So they expanded vertically.
I started very slowly, as my bad leg did not seem enamoured with the prospect ahead. After some fifteen minutes I emerged into the already strong sun, to realise that I had left my hat in the hotel. So reluctantly I went back and forth once more. I really did not need the extra walk on what was not going to be an easy day.
Once out of Pamplona, the path was undulating, climbing to a col between a multitude of huge wind turbines, strung along the ridge for as far as I could see. The steep descent from the ridge was arduous, on stones that moved with each step. It seemed endless.
But once down from the ridge, the going was easier, passing through several picturesque villages, each with their church, which I imagine pilgrims in the past would have visited. Today the churches are locked, a sign of the times we live in.
Finally I arrived in Puente de la Reina where I would spend the night. This is where two pilgrim routes merge – the northern Roncesvalles route from Paris and the more southern Somport pass route from Toulouse.
Puente de la Reina to Estella (22km)
Thursday, 29 March, 2012
It was once more quite cold when I set off in the morning, walking though narrow deserted medieval streets. That day there was a general strike in progress, and businesses had not opened.
It was Queen Muniadona, wife of King Sancho III, who built the bridge across the Río Arga, to aid the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. She died in 1066.
For a more than an hour I walked on a path along the river before climbing steeply into the hills. It was soon very hot and remained that way all day; not a cloud and no shade. I passed through three villages, each on a hill. Nothing was open.
In one of the villages I met two old crones, each with her stout stick. They looked ancient. I asked them if they wanted to walk the camino with me. They cackled and said they had already done it in 1993, after they had buried both their husbands.
Puente Picudo felt like a steep climb to my tired legs
I was very tired when I arrived in Estella and walked straight into a bunch of heavily armed riot police about to charge a huge group of demonstrators. I made a hasty retreat and after much wandering, I found a hotel.
Estella to Los Arcos (21km)
Friday, 30 March, 2012
I set off at the usual time – shortly before nine, bracing myself for the long undulating trudge to the ridge that separates Estella from the next valley. After 45 minutes I came to Monestario de Irache, a former Benedictine monastery. The first documented reference to the monastery is from 958, but it is likely to have originated from much earlier. It is an imposing building, with huge doors shut, and all windows barred. Were they barred to keep the public out or to keep the religious in?
Across the street from the monastery was a winery, and in a small courtyard was a wine fountain, for pilgrims only. Pilgrims can drink as much as they wish and also fill any spare bottles. Three old Spanish pilgrims were already there when I arrived, all looking much the worse for wear. I felt sorely tempted to join them, but found a hither unknown common sense, and kept on walking.
Once over the ridge there was no shelter from the unseasonably strong sun, just mile after mile of vineyards and recently germinated crops. The path was stony and dusty and I was relieved when Los Arcos finally came into sight. The spirit was willing, but my body had seen better years.
Los Arcos to Viana (19km)
Saturday, 31 March, 2012
The previous year, when I walked from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Pamplona, I saw several crosses by the path, most with pictures, and even some with quite fresh flowers. They were all of older people and I assume they died while doing El Camino. In the last few days I had seen three more. I cannot but believe that they died as they would have chosen; following their faith, in the open air, and walking in such beautiful country.
On that day I passed a quite old couple, having a picnic on the side of a hill, with an uninterrupted view across an expanse of vineyards. They were engrossed in their conversation and did not notice me. Later that day, when I was resting against a tree in an area of shade, I saw them again. They were walking along extremely slowly, hand-in-hand, like two young lovers.
If one of them were to die on El Camino, I suspect the survivor would erect a small cross and return each year to place some fresh flowers.
Inevitably, Viana was on top of yet another hill, with a steep access road. On the long and narrow main street, I stopped at the church. Inside one can see the tomb of Cesare Borgia, the most famous of the Borgia clan and greatly admired by Macciavelli. The Borgias came originally from Spain and Cesare was one of the illegitimate sons of Pope Alexander VI. He was commanding the Basque army of King John of Navarre when he was killed, on 12 March 1507, in a skirmish outside Viana.
Viana to Logroño (9km)
Sunday, 1 April, 2012
When I emerged from the warren of streets of Viana and first saw the dark and intimidating mountains on the western horizon, I decided to have an easy day, and stay in Logroño on the way to Navarrete. And what a good decision that turned out to be, for Logroño proved to be a lively and prosperous town. It is the capital of La Rioja and very much a centre of the wine trade. Producing great wine is one of the few occupations that has not been outsourced to India or China, at least not yet.
On the way into Logroño, I was passed by a couple on horseback, with a dog, and en route to Santiago, with some 600k to go.
Later that day the owner of a bar told me that the previous year a pilgrim on horseback had passed through Logroño, having ridden from Switzerland.
‘The first method of estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him’ Niccòlo Machiavelli (1469-1527) – ‘The Prince’
When I read The Prince many years ago, that quote reminded me of sage advice that my paternal grandfather once gave me – ‘Judge people by the company they keep’, sound advice that has served me well from time to time.
Machiavelli served under the Borgia family of Florence, the head of which was Pope Alexander VI. When Pope Alexander suddenly died in 1503 and the Borgia family were eventually defeated by the Medici, Machiavelli was imprisoned, tortured and eventually exiled from Florence to his nearby farm. It was said that from his terrace he could see Florence, but he could not return, and never did.
He wrote ‘The Prince’ as a guide to aspiring rulers, and dedicated it to Lorenzo de Medici, in a forlorn effort to endear himself to the Medici family. It is likely that Machiavelli obtained first-hand experience from observing the strategy and tactics of Pope Alexander VI and Cesare Borgia, as they attempted to conquer and unify several of the Italian city states.
Cesare Borgia was one of the many illegitimate children of Pope Alexander VI. Cesare was born in about 1475 and his father made him Bishop of Pamplona at the age of 15 and archbishop of Valencia and a cardinal while only 17.
After his brother’s murder he resigned from the Church to take command of his father’s armies. When Pope Alexander died suddenly in 1503 and was eventually replaced by Pope Julius II, a Medici and enemy of the Borgia, Cesare struggled to maintain his power. He was eventually arrested and sent to imprisonment in Spain. He escaped twice, the second time successfully joining his brother-in-law, King John III of Navarre, in Pamplona.
Commanding the army of Navarre in 1504, he led them in the siege and eventual capture of Viana, near Logroño. When some of the besieged knights broke free, Cesare set off after them, but he was ambushed and killed. He was buried in the church in Viana.
In the era after 1527, the local bishop decided that it was not appropriate that a ‘degenerate’ such as Borgia should be buried in the church and his remains were removed and buried in the street, so that everyone had to walk over them.
In 1945 they were once more dug up and placed under a marble plaque outside church grounds and finally moved back inside the church in 2007.
Outside the door of the church there is a paving stone commemorating Cesar Borgia.
Apparently there used to be an epitaph inscribed on the original tomb:
Aquí yace en poca tierra el que todo le temía
(Here lies in a small piece of earth, he who everyone feared)
Today Viana is a relatively small and peaceful town on the Camino de Santiago. It stretches along the crest of a small hill, and is known as the last resting place of a famous Borgia prince.
It was on a late Friday afternoon at the end of May 2014, when we arrived in Viana. We had been walking for seven days since we left Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France. The weather in that time had been quite ‘interesting’: torrential rain, sleet, snow, gale-force winds, flooded streams to cross, but then after Pamplona, perfect spring.
In my enthusiasm I was careless in the rock-strewn descent from El Alto del Perdón before Puente de la Reina, and ended the day with three nails on my numb foot bleeding and torn from the flesh and obviously going to be eventually shed. So having a rest day in Viana seemed like a great idea.
We did not wander far from the hotel until the next afternoon, when we explored the narrow little town, built in solid stone along the crest of a hill. There were a handfull of little bars and restaurants, all crowded. The streets were deserted and the shops closed for the afternoon break.
On a narrow street, parallel to the main street, and close to the cathedral we came across the bar Nagual. There was no sign. If it were not for the hint of a bright and verdant interior, one could be excused for having passed by unaware. But once enticed inside, the oak tree, the vine encircling the bar, the ceiling-high scene of a forest path and the bar laden with a wide selection of succulent tapas, alluded to a designer of excellence.
The owner was equally interesting with his black outfit, neatly trimmed black beard and his long salt and pepper hair tightly drawn back in a ponytail. When not serving customers he spoke to us of the interior design of his bar, of vegetarian food and of El Camino, which he had once completed. He showed us a shell tattoo on his wrist.
Later he told us of a bar in Logroño called La Taverna de Baco which had loads of Camino statistics on a wall. He was about to explain the significance of the name Nagual, when the bar filled and he was fully occupied. We left shortly after.
Two days later, when wandering around the narrow streets of the old district of Logroño, we were spoiled for choice for somewhere to have a glass of wine and some tapas; there were several streets of wall-to-wall bars and restaurants, most filled to capacity. In the end I chose one that was not so busy, but looked very inviting. It was not until we had sat down at a table and ordered that I noticed on the wall beside us a chart with a multitude of statistics of El Camino from 2009. And on the menu was the name of the bar – La Taverna de Baco. It was the very bar that we had been told of two days previously.
We probably stayed there for a couple of hours, snacking on various tapas and sipping on Rioja; Logroño is the capital of the Rioja region. Eventually I paid the bill and we were on our way to the door, when in walked the guy from the bar Nagual in Viana, together with an attractive woman and a young child. Although he obviously recognized us, he appeared to be not in the least surprised to see us there. We spoke for a short time and left.
It was not until after that the coincidences became apparent to me. We had walked into the bar without being aware that it was the one we had been told of. We had sat down at the only table that was next to the chart of Camino statistics, without initially noticing them. And to cap it all, as we were leaving, in walked the guy from Viana.
Coincidence? Perhaps, until recently, when I recalled the name of the bar in Viana, and did a search on the word ‘nagual’:
Nagual: a human being who has the power to transform spiritually or physically into an animal form. It originated in Mesoamerican cultures.
Was there something rather mysterious about the guy from Viana or have I just read too many of Paulo Coehlo’s mystic novels?